Mikaela Shiffrin rolls into Killington World Cup on fire, fueled by a decision to stay put

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Maybe your most recent memory of Mikaela Shiffrin is February’s Olympics, where she failed to finish her three best events and had a top individual result of ninth place. Maybe your most recent memory is her rebound last March, winning the World Cup Finals downhill and a fourth overall season title.

Or maybe it’s what happened last weekend. For the first time in her career, now in its 12th season, Shiffrin won the first two races of a season — back-to-back slaloms in Levi, Finland. They were her 75th and 76th World Cup victories, moving closer to the only skiers with more — Lindsey Vonn (82) and Ingemar Stenmark (86).

The pursuit of those legends is a major storyline for the forseeable future, but is still far off as the women’s World Cup visits the U.S. this weekend for the only time this season. Killington, Vermont, hosts a giant slalom on Saturday and a slalom on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET each day, NBC and Peacock).

What’s current is that Shiffrin is back on top in her trademark event after finishing last season with her worst string of slalom results since her rookie season (a DNF at the Olympics, then ninth- and eighth-place finishes in the last two World Cup slaloms).

Shiffrin stresses before every fall that she doesn’t know where she stacks up until everybody starts racing. The preseason prep period can last months and include training on three continents. So much can change for every elite skier from year to year, yet somehow Shiffrin has managed to win at least two races in 11 consecutive seasons (tying a record).

What’s different about this year? Flying. A lack of it.

Shiffrin decided to stay in Europe rather than go back home to Colorado after the Oct. 22 season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria was canceled due to rain and snowfall. It’s the second time in her career — and first time in many years — that Shiffrin didn’t cross the Atlantic between Soelden and Levi, races always separated by three or four weeks.

“Not try and battle the jet lag so many times in a row,” she reasoned.

So she arrived in Levi — 110 miles inside the Arctic Circle — earlier than usual. It paid off with those wins over fields that included Slovakian Petra Vlhova, who last season not only won the Olympic slalom, but also the season-long World Cup slalom discipline title to firmly supplant Shiffrin as the world’s best in the event after a years-long rivalry.

“The last years I’ve been really chasing and trying to get back and trying to just kind of stay with it,” Shiffrin said after Sunday’s victory, which included what she called maybe her best run ever in Levi, where she owns six victories. “I’ve won some races, but it’s always like, oh, I was just lucky to be here now. This is a little different this year. I’ve been working very hard, my whole team, over the summer to try to get my highest level a little bit higher. I think these races showed that it’s there.”

There are other factors. Shiffrin said her back is healthy after it curtailed training at the start of the last two seasons. She has two new ski technicians. Who knows how things have changed for Vlhova after dethroning Shiffrin and winning Olympic gold.

Now Shiffrin heads to Killington, where she has finishes of second, third, fourth and fifth in giant slaloms. She has won all five World Cup slaloms held there. If she makes it six in a row, it will be her 50th career World Cup slalom victory and another sign that last season is truly in the past.

By otherwise staying in Europe through this fall and winter, it’ll be the closest she feels to being at home.

“This expectation just builds and builds, and I think I’ll feel some pressure,” in Killington, she said on ORF in Levi on Sunday. “When you win, that actually only gets harder.”

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Isabeau Levito, Bradie Tennell, Amber Glenn named to U.S. team for World Championships

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – With a calm command belying her age, Isabeau Levito has taken control of U.S. women’s skating at age 15.

Levito came here as the solid favorite to take her first national title, and she did it with a seemingly effortless grace, her balletic style producing solid winning performances in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate.

She was the last of 18 skaters in the free skate, following rivals who made mistakes big and small. Levito did not need perfection, but her skating approached it, even if the execution of some jumps could have been better.

Levito left no doubt of her superiority and burst into a wide smile even before the scores were announced. After a narrow win over Bradie Tennell (.02 points) in the short program, Levito (223.33) wound up 10.21 points ahead of the runner-up Tennell (213.12) in the final standings.

Amber Glenn was third at 207.44. She, Levito and Tennell will fill the three women’s places on the U.S. team for the March World Championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Two of the three U.S. women’s skaters on the 2022 Olympic team have announced their retirements (Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell; Karen Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return). Given that and Tennell’s recurrent problems with injuries, Levito’s stature as the leading U.S. woman seemed assured. Whatever pressure she felt holding that position was not evident.

“My entire goal truly for both programs was to stay composed and to really try to suppress my nerves as much as possible and to really not let little minor silly mistakes happen,” Levito said. “I feel as though I did just that today and I’m very proud of myself for it.”

“I’ve gotten very good at suppressing nerves,” she had said after the short program. “I still feel the effects of the competition. But I find my own way mentally to handle it.”

For both Tennell and Glenn, there was a redemptive quality to their skating.

Neither had a result at last year’s nationals. Glenn had to withdraw after the short program when she tested positive for COVID. Tennell never made it to the event because of the foot injury that kept her out of competition for all last season.

“Honestly, it was terrifying being back here after the conclusion of my season last year,” Glenn said. “That was a big mental hurdle for me, but I was happy I was actually able to enjoy myself again and enjoy competing.”

Glenn made her 10th career attempt at a triple axel, stepping out of the landing after getting full rotational credit. Her persistence in trying that jump, which she never has landed cleanly, is one reason she was holding her hip after finishing the free skate. Glenn insisted it was just soreness.

“An unfortunate side effect of being 23 and doing these ultra (difficult) elements is my body can’t always keep up very well,” Glenn said.

Tennell, who turns 25 Tuesday, has been battling an injury in her right foot for more than a year, then an injury in her left foot since October. She fought past all that to make the podium for the fifth time in her last five nationals – twice first, twice second and once third.

“This one probably means the most, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this again,” Tennell said. “To be here and to have achieved it, especially after the (poor) start of my season and the bumps that I had to overcome, I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

Levito, the reigning world junior champion, reeled off seven triple jumps, two in combination with other triple jumps. She glided from element to element seamlessly.

“I finally skated the free the way I’ve been training to do it,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

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